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Patrick Ball @PatrickBall

recovering journalist. content and strategy at Care.com. writing about policies, problems and benefits affecting working families.

11 Ways You Can Start Working Smarter, Not Harder

Work smarter, not harder.

You work long and hard on … work.

No matter how hard you work, or for how many hours, there’s always going to be more work to be done.Because of factors like your health, your family, your sanity and the speed at which the Earth spins on its axis, there are physical limits governing how long and hard you can work in a day. Forget work-life balance, science says it’s possible that there’s a point at which you cannot work harder.

Working smarter? Now that’s a different story. When it comes to working smarter, the possibilities are endless.

And it doesn’t take a genius to do it. Here are a few simple steps to get you started.

  1. Stop Multitasking So Much
    You think you’re a fantastic multitasker, but you’re not. When you’re trying to do a little bit of everything, a little bit is all you’re doing. A key to working smart is lining up your tasks in a logical order and working through them, not trying to do a dozen things at once. We’re not saying tunnel vision, but sharpening your focus on the task at hand and you’ll produce better results the first time around and avoid future revisions.
  2. Start Asking for Help
    It’s true what they say about asking for help -- it’s a sign of strength, not a weakness. Don’t try to do everything; ask for assistance when you need it. Asking an associate to take care of some of your administrative tasks can allow you to focus on meatier items. And, sometimes, going to your manager or mentor is what sets you on the track to find the best solution. "You are not a superhero,” says Andrea Chilcote, CEO of Morningstar Ventures. “Asking for guidance from someone with more experience in your field will enhance your skills, knowledge and abilities.”
  3. Write Stuff Down
    Making lists might seem like more work, but it’ll pay off in the long run. Don’t try to keep everything in your head – we’re not wired that way. Prioritize your tasks and make smart lists of what you want to accomplish in a given day or week. “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them,” says David Allen, founder of the consulting firm David Allen Company . “People waste time re-thinking things they’re not doing anything about. Once it’s down on paper, it’s out of your head.”
  4. Start Your Day Earlier
    So make the most of it. Get up early, eat breakfast, exercise and then get to work. Front-load your days with high-priority projects, and you’ll be able to devote your time and attention to them while your mind is fresh and your office is relatively empty. The more you can accomplish early in the day, the more flexibility you’ll have as things arise once your colleagues start clocking in.  
  5. Reclaim Your Calendar
    We schedule ourselves so tightly that we risk leaving too little time to accomplish the work that actually needs to be done. Create a time-management system that allows you to carve out time for tasks like answering email, as well as time to plan ahead or reflect on big-picture items. Especially if your company culture is meeting-heavy, this system should include reclaiming control over your calendar by blocking off time so you can, you know, actually get some work done.
  6. Meet More Efficiently
    TLNT had an interesting post recently about “The Terribly High Cost of Having a Meeting Culture.”  In it, the author notes the average white-collar American professional spends nine hours each week in regular meetings, or preparing for those regular meetings. TLNT’s post talks about the financial costs, which makes sense, because time is money, right? But time spent in meetings – not to mention preparing for meetings and transitioning back to work after meetings – is also time not spent completing other projects. So take a hard look at meeting agendas and invites, and scale back where you can.
  7. Set Tighter Deadlines
    Track the amount of time you spend on each of your tasks. Write it down. Then cut it by, say, 15 percent. If you spend an hour in the morning checking and responding to emails, only give yourself 51 minutes. When we know how much time we have available to complete a project, we typically find a way to take up all the time we are allotted. Challenge yourself to stick to tighter deadlines and you’ll find yourself being more productive.
  8. Limit Digital Distractions
    The same way you track how much time you spend on your work, you can track how much time you’re spending on things that aren’t work. There are tools, like RescueTime, that help you understand your daily habits so you can focus your efforts and limit time spent on digital distractions. Once you realize how much time you’re wasting by checking in on Facebook or debating the color of #TheDress.
  9. Start Saying No
    It’s natural to want to be a people pleaser, but realistically you can’t be everything to everyone. Being protective of your time and saying “No” (politely, of course) once in a while will de-clutter your workload and help you focus on your important tasks rather than your co-worker’s less important ones.
  10. Optimize Your Workspace
    Whether you have an office, a cubicle, a standing desk or a recliner, make sure the space where you work is not just organized, but optimized. Don’t stop at getting your filing systems in order and your pens and paper all in place. If you really want to maximize job performance, make sure to get  your ergonomics right and keep your playlists tight.
  11. Bring Work Home With You
    Most lists like this will tell you to build a hard stop into your day and make plans for after work. We’re not going to do that. The reality is: We’re no more likely to leave work at work than we are to leave home at home. So go ahead and bring work home with you – healthy work-life integration is not a bad thing, as long as it works for you and your family. If you’re at peace with doing a little bit of work on the weekends, it can make your Friday afternoon a little more enjoyable and your Monday morning a little less hectic.